Since the start of the pandemic, workplace safety has been worryingly one-sided. We’ve all worked hard to reduce transmission risks, but COVID-19 hasn’t eliminated the sector’s other threats to staff health and wellbeing. Andy Hall, Technical Manager and H&S Consultant at Southalls, explains why it’s essential for operators to step up compliance standards across the board – now more than ever. 

While on-the-job fatalities have dropped in recent years, the waste management industry’s safety track record still shows significant room for improvement. HSE statistics from 2019/20 reveal that around 3.6% of staff sustained a workplace injury – notably higher than the rate across all other fields. Meanwhile, 5,000 employees suffer from work-related ill-health (new or long-standing) each year. 

In the face of driver shortages, rising insurance premiums and regulatory penalties reaching £2.6 million, this is no time to fall short on safety. Raise standards, avoid accidents and prevent costly claims by acting on your five critical risks:

  1. Workplace transport – Two-thirds of all the waste industry’s fatalities are caused by vehicle and pedestrian collisions, many linked to poor visibility and road risks. Use targeted staff training to boost awareness of onsite and kerbside hazards – particularly among new recruits – and implement all possible visibility and safety aids on refuse vehicles.
  2. Musculoskeletal disorders – Poor manual handling practices account for one-third of the sector’s non-fatal injuries. The likelihood of harm is influenced by several factors – from load weight to collection frequency and vehicle design – but cumulative health issues are often fuelled by repeatedly manoeuvring unwieldy containers and raising refuse bags overhead. Educate employees on correct posture and lifting techniques and provide appropriate PPE to ensure better grip and positioning. 
  3. Falls from height – Falls can happen as staff enter and exit the vehicle cab. Train your team on situational hazards, especially during adverse weather and slippery conditions, check cab steps to remove any build up of mud and contaminants and ensure grab handles are in a good condition. Review equipment and practices back at headquarters too, ensuring waste management and processing procedures don’t contribute to further work-at-height risks. 
  4. Slips and trips Kerbs, uneven pavements, poor lighting, ice and wet surfaces mean refuse workers face year-round trip risks. Kit out employees with sturdy, non-slip footwear and ensure they’re up to speed on common trip hazards – both onsite and on the road. 
  5. Other health hazards Your team is exposed to a wide range of safety risks every day – from dust inhalation and cuts from sharp objects to workplace noise and physical violence from the public. To bring hidden hazards to light, carry out comprehensive risk assessments across all key tasks. Regularly consult with staff on the safety issues they face daily and use their feedback, ideas and frontline experience to tailor training provision, rethink PPE requirements and develop achievable safety-centric procedures.  
Have your H&S questions answered, for free 

Get your staff safely through every shift with free expert compliance guidance. Arrange a complimentary, no-sales phone consultation with a Southalls H&S specialist on safetyadvice@southalls.com or call 0345 257 4501. We’re here to help.